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Thinking About Getting a Dog?

Having a dog can be an incredibly rewarding experience but is not automatically so. Many people rush into it without considering all the ramifications and wind up frustrated with something that is all work and no reward. The result is millions of dogs abandoned in shelters because they did not meet expectations that are often unrealistic. There are many things to consider before you begin looking for a dog. Som important considerations are:

How long will the dog be alone each day?

Dogs are social animals and being isolated for long stretches can be stressful, especially for younger or more active dogs. Left to themselves many dogs will develop bad habits or get into general mischief in order to keep entertained.

Where will the dog stay when nobody is home?

While staying outside during the day is not necessarily a problem for many dogs they need shelter from wind, rain and sun. They also need to have water available at all times.

How much time will somebody be able to spend with the dog each day?

Dogs need regular exercise and play in order to stay healthy and well behaved. This may include walks in the morning and evening as well as general playtime and family interaction.

What activities do you want to include the dog in?

Long walks? Jogging? Trips to the park or the beach? Different breeds have different general abilities and requirements with regard to physical activity and, for example, getting Bulldog as a jogging partner or a Border Collie for infrequent short walks is going to frustrate you and potentially harm the dog.

What other dogs have you known in the past?

While familiarity with a breed may help you decide what you are or are not looking for remember that every dog is an individual and you can't expect a new dog to act exactly like one that you knew before. Knowing what you do and don't like can, however, be a big help in deciding if a particular dog is likely to be right for you.

How much are you able to spend for care?

Apart from the cost of food the dog will need periodic veterinary care and if health problems arise it can become quite costly. In addition, some dogs require regular grooming that can also be expensive over time.

How much space do you have for the dog?

A St Bernard in a one-bedroom apartment can be quite overwhelming. All dogs need an inside area for sleeping as well as a place for food and water.

Who will be responsible for the dog's care?

Caring for a dog can help teach a child responsibility but if the child does not always follow through it is important that the dog not suffer for it. Everybody in the household must be ready and willing to ensure that the dog is properly cared for every day.
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Does everybody in the home want a dog?

If one or more members of the household do not want a dog, or dislike the type of dog being considered, then it can be a source of stress for all parties involved, including the dog.

Are you looking for a specific breed?

Every breed has positive and negative characteristics and within each breed the individual dogs will vary quite a bit. If you are looking at a particular breed because of the appearance or reputation be sure to research the associated personality and health issues before limiting your search. Always remember that not all dogs will conform to their breed's reputation and that mixed breed dogs may get the worst of each breed along with the best. Every dog is unique.

Do you already have a dog?

Getting a second dog is often a good idea. In general you should mix genders, getting a female as a companion for a male and vice-versa. While there are always exceptions the chances of problems arising from a struggle for dominance is minimized when you do not have two males or two females. If the dogs are going to be playmates then you should also try to match the physical abilities so that neither overwhelms the other.

Are you looking only for a (fe)male?

Many people consider only male or only female dogs because they have had success or problems with one or the other in the past or because they believe that males are too aggressive or that females are too submissive. While searching you should not automatically discount a dog based on gender as the range of behaviors in both male and female dogs is very wide. It is possible to find shy, timid males as well as active, dominant females. If you are certain you only want a specific gender that's fine as there are plenty of both available but you may be doing yourself a disservice.

Are you looking for a puppy?

Puppies are very cute and a lot of fun but are also a lot of work. They require almost constant interaction and have zero training in "proper" behavior so it's all up to you to raise them. There's also no guarantee about their personality, size, or health as adults.

The bottom line

In summary, the more you think about what you have to offer a dog and what you expect to get back the better the chances of finding a good match. Dogs are intelligent, feeling creatures that need, and deserve, care and lots of love. Adopting a dog is not like purchasing furniture for your home - it is an ongoing responsibility for a period of up to 20 years. Perhaps the most important thing to understand about any dog that you adopt is that it is at heart a pack animal and needs the social hierarchy that the pack provides. In a home the dog considers the people and other animals he lives with to be his 'pack' and will interact with them in much the same way as he would with a real pack in the wild. This relationship is key to integrating a dog into your home and making all the time and expense seem like an incredible bargain given all the love and companionship that your dog will return to you.